A Boy Named Lucifer
LUCIFER WOKE to the daylight in a depression of soft earth, sided at every angle by swollen, moss-grown roots from the surrounding trees. The roots tangled in a ballet of need, of sustenance and assurance. They made a natural bed for the young boy and, he thought, quite a comfortable one.
Lucifer lay still for a while, listening to the birds in the limbs, feeling a presence of soul, feeling at once loved and comforted by the breezes and guarded over and shaded by the mighty arbors themselves. He didn’t remember falling asleep in the bed of roots, but then, one never remembers the precise moment that sleep sets in and the soul begins to wander. He recognized where he was, though. He knew the place well. It was the dense woods by the river, the orchard as some mistakenly called it, ever the watchful opponent to Lone Place. It was too copious a forest, and the trees too tall and round to be any kind of useful or profitable orchard. There might have been fruit trees there at one time, but no more. These were stalwart trees, only a few having any kind of affectation or ornamental guise such as flowers, and most of those were on the outer orchard fringes that opposed the big house. The trees of the orchard stretched downriver, though none could say how far. Certainly Lucifer had never been able to exact their acreage and he had played in them, walked in them, whispered with them, for all his young, curious life.
The little boy rose to his feet and stretched with a contented morning’s welcome sigh. He looked around him with boyish uncertainty. He had been walking the orchard forever, it seemed, yet he didn’t look to be making any progress in any particular direction. He tried to remember why he was in the orchard at all.
“I’m not much of a runaway, huh?” he questioned the trees around him. “I cain’t even find the way out of my own front yard.”
The trees whispered in the breeze, but Lucifer had noticed lately their language had changed. He couldn’t quite understand their creaking whispers anymore. That had something to do with why, he supposed, he had left his mother back at Lone Place. But honestly, he really wasn’t sure. He had forgotten the exact reasoning.
“No. I’m not a good runaway t’all. Runaways is s’posed to have a good mind for grudges. But look at me.” He raised his hands in an overly exasperated gesture. If he had possessed a grudge toward his mother or someone else and thus decided to hightail it out of Lone Place, it had not gotten him too far.
Lucifer knew the trees of the orchard, though, and he knew they would help him. He felt more at home in the orchard, in fact, than he had in the big house he had been raised in. Lone Place felt distant no matter how much his mother tried to change it for him. It was a place of complete opposition for him. Set awkwardly angled on a hill at the riverside, tall and aloof from the orchard like a pompous royal with its perfect columns like barrier arms and its wide corridors like bloodless veins. Other children liked it there; other children laughed through its broad, echoing halls as if it were a wonderland. They were welcome to it. The orchard was Lucifer’s domain. Even as a young child, its spirits played with him and taught him things—things such as the secrets his mother’s friend Mother True taught her two daughters. Secret things that the Big People of the world might say was crazy talk. It wasn’t crazy talk, it was tree-talk.
“How long have I been gone from the big house? From Lone Place?” he asked the trees as he made his way through them, his bare feet feeling natural and at home on the earth and above the ground roots. Occasionally a small twig or leaf would tickle the tender flesh of his soles.
He heard a barely audible response descend from the branches like feathers. “What was that?” Lucifer said, pulling his tangled dark curls away from his ear so as to better hear. He pressed his head to the flesh of a tree. “Why are you being so hush?”
There was no response to his question. Lucifer was becoming increasingly frustrated by his inability to converse with the orchard. He had heard that some lose the ability to speak to the Other Side as they grow older; he cursed the notion that this was happening to him. Mother True had always assured him he was special because of his tree-talking gift. And she would know, she was a River Dweller.
“Well, I must be some ways away from Lone Place, ’cause I don’t remember seeing my family for a while. Not Momma, not Mr. Lone, not even Uriel. Surely, they would have come and looked for me by now if they was at all concerned.”
The ground beneath his feet was becoming wet and muddy as he walked. The gunk squeezed between his toes and stuck to his soles. He was nearer the river and could see through the trees across the placid, sun-touched water. One of the valley’s raft boys—termed, inexplicably, ferry boat boys—was making his crossway, looking distracted as he pushed himself with his dependable oar toward Lone Place.
“That’s Roman,” Lucifer whispered into the moss of a tree, watching the familiar ferry boat boy with fondness. Lucifer remembered Roman to be a ‘good feller,’ but a very quiet one with no friends other than Lucifer’s brother Uriel, the Storyteller. He was almost always at the call of the Lones. Mr. Lone paid very well, after all, owning a large portion of the land in this region of the valley. He was a fairly recent “employee,” though the valley folk were hard-pressed to actually remember a time any of the Lones besides Uriel had been seen on a raft. There were many field workers, house servants, and laborers on the payroll as well. Those who could get employment from Mr. Lone considered themselves very lucky.
Roman didn’t think of himself as lucky, though. That was not a ferry boat boy way of thinking. Uriel had been the only thing in the world that had started to matter to Roman, and that was why he spent his working day at their end of the river.
Occasionally, when Roman was looking for a bit more adventure, he would travel down current and seek other, newer faces. He would also do this if he felt the masculine urges and had not been satisfied in some time. Roman was a big, strong lad in his early twenties and so handsome a man that no one, male or female, could resist him if he had his designs set on them. He wasn’t charming, but his fierce quality of silence was disarming. Who can resist the Mysterious Stranger? A newly founded college downriver by the name of Greenbriar had become a lucrative raft location for him in other ways, even if it didn’t pay too well monetarily.
Lucifer leaned against a tree, standing behind it so that he would be out of sight. After all, he must have had a good reason to run away. He didn’t want to get seen.
He could understand the attraction to Roman, though. He was a boy, and Roman’s life of adventuring on the river was an exciting prospect. That must have been why Uriel was always with him. They were off adventuring without him. Uriel always did things without him now.
Lost in thoughts of sword fights with river pirates and swamp monsters, Lucifer found himself caught off-guard by Roman’s piercing eyes. The two amethyst-like jewels stared directly at him, having found his hiding place beneath the trees. Lucifer threw himself back into the forest, pushing with great might against his leaning tree. He turned and began running through the orchard. “No one catches Lucifer Lone when he wants to hide! Not until he’s ready to show himself.”
Forgetting Roman’s propensity for silence, he was certain Roman would go to Lone Place and tell everyone who was there that he had seen Lucifer in the trees. They would find him in no time, sending out the Marsh family and the River Dwellers to take him home. Another realization also came to Lucifer as he ran: he hadn’t journeyed as far from the big house as he had first thought, for Roman the ferry boat boy never did any ferrying past Lone Place and the orchard. Never.
Thinking that he might soon hear Roman disembarking from his raft to give chase and bring the runaway son back to the house, Lucifer hid in an ancient and hallowed tree stump. In fact, one so large it was like a small room. He jumped inside of it with the flexibility only the very young possess and waited there beneath the ferns and odd plants that grew from its guts. It was too deep a hole for him to peek out of; the old stump’s walls were a good height. But he could hear if and when Roman passed, and he hoped the trees would warn him. After all, during his flight he had heard whispers; they didn’t sound like those of the trees but they were at least reassuring.
He sat squat and hidden for some time. There was no sound of brushing feet on fallen leaves around him nor of Roman’s strong, rarely heard voice calling out for Lucifer to make himself seen. He wasn’t even certain Roman possessed a yelling voice. All Lucifer heard was the gliding of the forest wind and the occasional sound of one of Mother True’s special Breed of deer peacefully investigating the orchard. Yet Roman had seen him, Lucifer was sure of that. The ferry boat boy had stopped steering with the oar, holding it deadly still in the water as he stared into the orchard at Lucifer. Still, there was nothing but the pleasant quiet of the ancient woods of the valley. There was no chase at all.
Lucifer relaxed, deciding to wait just a little longer in the safety of the stump, and he sat back into the circular darkness around him. At once he felt a jagged discomfort to his oblique, a poking that resembled the touch of no plant he had ever come across. He felt for the source of the intrusion. He realized what it was before he even saw it clearly: bones and cloth. A rib had fingered its way out from a stained and wasted shirt. Sunlight shone into the stump, past the ferns and plant leaves, and displayed a bowed skull on a rib cage. In horror and amazement, Lucifer understood he had stumbled upon someone’s last resting place.
He jumped from the pit, clearing the ferns and vegetation with a leap and, once out, stared at the stump, daring himself to approach it again and investigate more thoroughly. His own sense of terror laid waste to any peace in the orchard. Deer and birds scattered at his leaping, and it became as silent as a barrow ground. When at last Lucifer had caught his breath, he pushed aside the vegetation again and peered in at the workings of Old Death.
“What do you suppose happened here?” he asked the trees.
The skeleton (definitely a male from the way it was dressed) did not look as if whomever it had once belonged to had met a grisly end. Rather, it was as if someone had simply fallen asleep and died there. The head was bent to the chest, the hands situated between the knees, and the legs tucked up tightly beneath the torso. A figure in prayer or dreaming at its soul’s departure.
“How long have you been here, friend?” He reached into the stump again as far as he could, keeping his stomach balanced on the wood wall, and touched the skull gently.
A voice seemed to come from the breeze then. Not suddenly, but evolving and natural, as if collecting syllables from the air. “He has been here a while now.”
It was a serene, gentle sound, compassionate and concerned, yet wholly un-human. Lucifer thought it was the orchard finally answering him, albeit more coherently than ever before, but when he raised himself and looked up he saw something he had never seen. Something brand new, and Lucifer loved brand new things.
The first thing he thought upon seeing the figure in front of him was a remembrance of something his mother had once said to him after being visited by Mother True. “Luc,” she said. “The Mother has told me something wonderful. She told me how special you are. You are always being watched over, the Mother said; she says we all are. There are angels, my dear. A thousand angels for every human being. A thousand angels to make our passing painless.”
The tall figure before Lucifer, beneath the trees, was certainly something resembling an angel. It had wings. In fact, he had at first mistaken it for the stone angel in the courtyard of Lone Place. But that angel, and the ones which had been described to him, had brilliant white wings. All good things wore white. The wings of the figure before him now, however, were not white at all; they were reflective, immense and violet-black, matching the hair on the angel’s head. The wings were folded over its frame so that only its head could be seen. The angel’s eyes were black as obsidian, but not menacing in any way. Witness to all these marvels in an instant, it was the skin that caught Lucifer most off-guard: the angel’s flesh was the most peculiar shade of light blue, slight blue, as if he had been soaked in blueberries.
“You’re slightly blue,” Lucifer pointed out with some skill of the obvious. After a moment’s pause where he pondered the day’s unheralded number of surprises, he finally spoke again, still keeping a good distance from the towering creature. “Do they work?” he asked. “Do those wings work?” He repositioned his pointing finger and gave his best attention-getting gesture.
The angel spread the wings in show, stretching them so the sunlight kissed their black and violet majesty. Though there was hardly room for one of such height and width in the dense forest, he managed not to snap a twig. The orchard seemed to not mind at all. It even appeared to expand for the creature. The angel’s body was exposed as the wings spread. It was a smooth, aesthetic form, void of hair or sex.
“If I need them, they will work,” it said. The wings flapped, creating a mighty gust of wind that danced through the orchard. Then the angel relaxed the wings once again and shrouded his naked form. “I am Azrael.”
“My name is Lucifer, but most just call me Luc.” He approached the angel, more curious than frightened now. “You’re an angel? A real one?”
Azrael tilted his head and called into the trees with a sound not unlike that of a dove. “Some say so,” he replied. “Others have different names for me. The purpose is the same.”
Lucifer grinned. “Well, this is something else! You’re the second thing of some wonder I’ve seen this day, the first bein’ those bones in that old stump.”
“Those bones have been there for a while.” The breeze kept up its pattern of evolving and shaping the voice to fit words. It seemed at times that the angel was talking through a screen.
“You said that.” Lucifer continued to approach Azrael. The angel did not move, which encouraged the boy’s curiosity. “I’d ask the trees how those bones got there, they would know; but I can’t seem to hear them too well. Why do you s’pose the trees are so quiet to me, Mr. Angel? I’ve climbed just about every one of ’em. We’re all good friends. They shouldn’t ignore me so.”
Azrael didn’t answer. He didn’t say anything straight away, seemingly just as curious of the little boy as the boy was of him. He simply watched Lucifer approach and stood too perfectly still as the young eyes looked him over (such great height made Lucifer have to squint into the upper air), and the small hands reached for the angel’s black and violet feathers.
“A real-life angel!” Lucifer gasped, feeling the silky smoothness of the wings. “My mother would sure be impressed by this, though I don’t think she’ll be hearing about it anytime soon. I’m a runaway you see.” He backed away and crouched up on a nearby moss-grown stone that was angled to the back of the great winged man. He was content to stay there for the time being and continue studying the angel Azrael. What adventures he could have with a winged man!
“I have heard you running through the forest and watched you sleeping near the roots, sweet Lucifer.” Azrael turned to face Lucifer again, though he did not seem to turn at all. It seemed more the other way; like the world shifted around the angel. “I’ve been watching over you for some time.”
“Watching over me, huh?” Lucifer said from atop his stone perch like a pupil sizing up a new teacher. “Why’s that?”
“I’m here waiting for you to tell me your story.” The angel’s eyes were impenetrable, but they held a gentle quality.
“Yes,” Azrael stated simply. “How did you come to be here, Lucifer? Tell me. Angels do not have stories to tell. We do not have histories and time. It is a foreign concept to us. Tell me, please.” His eyes formed into the most pleasing and heartbreaking of expressions. How could he refuse the request of an angel?
“I don’t rightly recall how I got here.” Lucifer scratched his head and squinted his eyes, as if in doing so he might remember.
“Then tell me about your childhood. Tell me about this place, about the orchard.”
And it was as easy as that. And why shouldn’t it have been? Lucifer had many times talked to the stone angel in the courtyard of Lone Place; he had recited imaginary heroisms to it. He had imagined the stone angel, with its carved face of fierce determination, was his to command in a war to save the valley. Azrael was no piece of limestone or granite; Azrael was very real, and finally it was Lucifer’s stories, not Uriel’s, that had an audience. He proudly stood upright on the boulder like a respected orator and began telling the angel of his memories of the valley….